The chocolate industry is evolving. Though major companies like Hershey and Mars have dominated it for its entire existence, new artisan or boutique chocolatiers are appearing, ready to challenge them for supremacy. The idea of small, local competition is nothing new for the behemoths, who had to combat independent grocers earlier in the 20th century. These new companies are more legitimate than an independent grocer, though. Some, like Taza, experience enough success that they grow into fairly large companies, and others, though they may remain small, still carry a distinct air of legitimacy.
These two sectors are quite different in scale, so how do they differentiate themselves in terms of how they advertise themselves to customers? Historian Emma Robertson notes that, “chocolate has long-standing associations with female sexuality” and discusses how this manifests itself in chocolate marketing in her book, Chocolate Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (Robertson, 1-3). Though these sexualized undertones are strong throughout the chocolate industry and sometimes become painfully explicit in advertising, I will not focus on them here. Instead, I will be concerned with how the two sectors of companies differentiate themselves from each other in how they discuss and market their products. My two main examples will be Jacques Torres Chocolate and two subsidiaries of Mars, Dove and Galaxy. On the whole, the Jacques Torres material focuses on the quality of the product and the personality of Torres, while the Mars subsidiaries focus on chocolate’s larger connotations and its idealized worlds, which represents an evolution in the larger cultural discussion about chocolate in advertisements.
Historically, these two subsets of the chocolate industry have had to jointly combat the stigma of adulteration. Chocolate contains a multitude of ingredients, which, dating back to Cadbury in 1869, have a long history of being adulterated to cut costs. In her article “Blame Candy” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Samira Kawash reports that, “candy makers were suspected of cutting corners… [and] boosting the bottom line by adding fillers like plaster or sawdust…, replacing chocolate with wax or nuts with cardboard, employing toxic dyes to create eye-catching colors” (Kawash). Though large companies like Cadbury were often implicated, this stigma was attached to all chocolate, including chocolate made by independent producers. One newspaper ad from the early 1900’s produced by Mars was entitled “You’ll Never Sell Her Cheap Candy Again” and introduced a short vignette with parents blaming their daughter’s stomach ache on cheap candy purchased at the local corner store, as opposed to the fine Mars products that “give you more quality” (Proquest Database). The branding war between large companies and small, independent producers, then, is nothing new.
Not only did small grocers and large companies compete over who would be stuck with chocolate’s negative associations, they also have differentiated themselves in their advertising for as long as chocolate has been mass produced. In their book Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro note that in the late 1800’s, chocolate “manufacturers would supply retail merchants with large chromos [small cards with designs and advertisements on them] to stimulate sales.” While, “Victorian sentimentality prevailed” with larger chocolate companies’ ornate designs, the authors note that, “cards for grocers were much more business-like,” and often just listed prices or products (Grivetti & Shapiro, 185-7). This difference in marketing was probably merely one of necessity, as the smaller grocers could not afford the ornate designs of the larger companies. The underlying trend, however, of smaller chocolatiers focusing on their product exclusively and bigger companies worrying more about its connotations and ancillary benefits, persists to this day.
In 2016, the two groups wage a similar war, one that is played out online and on television as opposed to in newspapers. On Jacques Torres’s website, the company asserts itself as a provider of high quality, artisan, hand-crafted chocolate. The most subtle way it does this is through its name. Jacques Torres, nicknamed “Mr. Chocolate” is a relatively famous personality, but Torres’ name gives the company clout even independent of his reputation. The fact that the company is named after a specific person makes the customer feel as though they are personally interacting with Torres every time they engage with his company. It adds a level of personality and specificity that a big company cannot match. The “About Us” section goes on to detail Torres’s many accomplishments in his culinary career, granting him an air of absolute legitimacy. Nothing Mars puts out can compete with something personally crafted by an award-winning French chef. The section goes on to write that, “Jacques Torres Chocolate is proud to produce real food bursting with real flavor made without taking any shortcuts or adding any preservatives, extracts or ‘essences.'” Here, the company is appealing to the fraught history of chocolate, and assuring potential customers that they have no part of that. Jacques, it seems, is above such tricks.
Other parts of the website underscore this point. In the picture above, Torres appears to be in touch with nature, and therefore healthy. The About Us section does claim, after all, that Torres’ chocolate is “better for you”. Though it does not elaborate on exactly what the chocolate is better than, any discerning chocolate customer may easily guess. The section closes with the words, “Real. Authentic. Original.” All of these words are variations on the same idea, which is that Jacques Torres chocolate creates a personal connection with the customer, and leverages that connection to gain legitimacy.
The video appearing prominently on the site achieves a similar effect.
This video is something called “A Taste of The Terminal”, and was produced by Grand Central Terminal. In its decision to include it in their website’s promotional material, though, the company elaborates upon the personableness and legitimacy that it has built in its “About Us” section. First, Jacques seems eminently likable. He is very nice to all whom he interacts with, posing for pictures and doing fist bumps with random strangers. The viewer wishes that he or she could have been in the station when he was handing out his crepe samples. Perhaps oddly, though, the video does not discuss chocolate much. The main focus, one could argue, is crepes. Here again, though, the company has shrewdly positioned Jacques as a culinary authority, a master of all. In establishing his ability as a maker of crepes, the video has established his ability as a chef overall, which makes him seem even more legitimate to a customer. Through all of his company’s promotional materials, Jacques Torres appears as a world-renowned pastry chef, who has come to personally cater to his customers’ needs.
Mars company, on the other hand, cannot quite compete with Jacques on a personal level. What it can do, is emphasize certain connotations about its products and those that eat them.
According to an article in the advertising journal The Spot, this advertisement was meant to “give the brand a fresh look, and spur more everyday purchases by customers” (Nudd, The Spot). The advertisement accomplishes this goal by using actors that appear more normal and even quirky. These are not the “classically” beautiful models from stereotypical perfume or chocolate commercials. The decision to film the advertisement as a stop-motion movie increases the quirkiness of the environment, and makes the magical enhancement of the environment by the characters seem more normal. The advertisement ties in these environmental expansions by telling the viewers, “It’s always better when there’s a little more to love”, connecting the bigger bar with the bigger landscape features. This advertisement is working on a much more implicit scale than the Jacques Torres promotional material, though. Whereas Torres touts the craftsmanship of the product and the legitimacy of the chef, Dove focuses on an idealized vision of the world in which its chocolate exists. If you want to live in that world, then you want to eat Dove chocolate.
The vision of an idealized world shines through even more clearly in this Galaxy advertisement, which Dove also used a shortened version of in America. The actress depicted is Audrey Hepburn, who has been CGI’ed into the scene. This detail already sets up the world as a sort of idealized fantasy-land, as Hepburn, long dead, could not possibly appear in a new advertisement–and yet, there she is. Inspired by her Galaxy bar, Hepburn leaves her bus and gets into the back of a man’s car and speeds away from a generic quaint European town into a generic quaint European countryside. The slow fade-in of the song, which is “Moon River”, a song from one of Hepburn’s most famous films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, increases the sentimentality, as non-diagetic sound gradually overpowers diagetic sound. In this fantasy-land, Galaxy chocolate reins supreme. It has driven Hepburn to act boldly and run away with the man of her dreams (we may assume). People who would like a window into such a world or perhaps to be like Hepburn must eat Galaxy chocolate in order to attain such dreams.
The central difference between the Dove and Galaxy advertisements and the promotional material for Jacques Torres is that the Jacques Torres material focuses on the quality of the product and the Mars subsidiaries focus on its connotations. It seems that now, with chocolate under fire as an unhealthy food, the smaller artisans are attacking that stigma head on, while the larger companies are skirting it entirely and trying to reframe the conversation around not what chocolate contains, but, rather, what it means. Mars’ side-stepping of the debate positions it not so much as a food company, but as a lifestyle company. If you want to eat well, eat Jacques Torres. If you want to live well, eat Dove and Galaxy.
Kawash, Samira. “Blame Candy.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 60.08 (2013). Biography in Context. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History
“A Taste of the Terminal: Jacques Torres” from Youtube
“Dove Chocolate Bar Ad_ More To Love” from Youtube
“Audrey Hepburn: Galaxy Chocolate Commercial” from Youtube
“Mr. Chocolate: Experiences” http://www.mrchocolate.com/experience/
“Mr. Chocolate: About Us” http://www.mrchocolate.com/about-us/
“Display Ad 62–No Title”. New York Herald Tribune (1926-1962); Oct 20, 1933; Proquest Historical Newspapers: New York Tribune/Herald Tribune